February 23, 2012

Photo essay: The Making of "Get Up Tim."

Get Up Tim, by Sally Weigel

Regular readers know that CCLaP's latest original book, the story collection Get Up Tim by Sally Weigel, just got released a few weeks ago; but maybe what a lot of you don't realize is that the paper version of the book is being done under an entirely new design scheme from last year's books, and that after several weeks of last-minute changes and waiting for mail orders to arrive, the final version of the design is now finished and starting to get shipped out. (In fact, this is the eighth small paper book CCLaP has put out in the last twelve months, collectively referred to as the "Hypermodern Editions," a term from the world of book collecting that refers to any volume less than thirty years old; I call them this to emphasize the fact that they are all handmade, using processes that are sometimes centuries old, with such collectible touches as a signature page, provenance statement, full Colophon and more, but kept reasonably priced for beginning or part-time book collectors.) To tell you the truth, it's always been the plan to switch the design scheme each year, and to have all the books from that twelve-month period use the same design; that way it gives us something fun to announce at the beginning of each year, makes it more interesting for me as the designer, and helps you immediately identify what particular year a particular CCLaP paper book came out, based only on a glance.

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

This year's books all start at the very beginning of the process with the commissioning of a visual artist to do a brand-new illustration for the cover; in this case it was the great Grace Blevins of Milwaukee, who turned in an image that both Sally and I are just very happy with. I then ran an order with an offset-printing place, using the same kind of heavy, sorta-shiny material that commercial brochures are made from, and just grab another one whenever I'm ready to make yet another new copy of the book. (By the way, in a few weeks I'm going to be selling both a poster version and a refrigerator magnet of this illustration through my new account at print-on-demand company CafePress.com, just as a little experiment to see how many people might be interested in such a thing.)

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

Then I assemble the rest of the material needed to make the hard cover, which turns out to not really be a lot -- simply two pieces of bookbinding particle board, as well as a strip of that heavy fabric I use to cover the entirety of the covers in CCLaP's 2011 books. (For those who are curious, I order most of this material from the fantastic Hollander's in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but also patronize the local stores Blick, Michael's, and the Paper Source.) As regular visitors will see, thankfully one of the side benefits of this year's design scheme is that it takes a lot less than effort than last year's, while still producing a unique and well-done book by the end; combine that with the fact that the center finally now has a paid assistant bookbinder (Todd Poitras, who right now is completing a school internship with CCLaP, then will come on as an occasional employee starting this summer), and that hopefully means that all this book-making stuff won't completely swamp my life like it did last year. Here's hoping, anyway!

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

Next, mark up your spine on the flip side of the fabric, lay on a thin layer of PVA glue, and press your boards down. Like most modern bookbinders, I cheat a little and buy my glue premixed from Hollander's; but if you want to get fussy about it, certainly there are a lot of bookbinders out there who still make their glue from scratch themselves, often so that it'll have the right ingredients to be archival-friendly. There's a whole little shadow industry of old-fashioned bookbinders still left in America, that I've just started learning about more and find fascinating; see for example this fascinating article recently in the New York Times, about the MacArthur-winning guy who makes the thousand-year-lasting paper for the National Archives, and how he literally grows Japanese trees outside his New England studio so that he can harvest and prepare them himself.

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

Next, cut a gap in the illustration where the fabric lies, then take both ends and glue them to your boards. Unfortunately, I've learned that the particular paper I ordered has a tendency to flake off easily at the edges once bent and glued like this, so I have to be super careful with transporting them around. Definitely something to keep in mind when I do the next order, for Lauryn Allison Lewis' darkly surreal novella Solo Down, coming in April.

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

Next, I take my little handmade jig and cut off the edges of the paper, so that its narrowest point is exactly one and a half times the width of the particle board it's glued to, so that it will cover the edges when folded over but not cause a big bump-up of material. Then a little glue to all the edges, followed by fold-overs (hint -- put the paper edges on your bookmaking surface and literally roll the cover up and over them, to ensure a fold that's tight and free of air bubbles), and it's ready to be pressed for its first 24-hour period. (That's the flip side of what I've learned about this new design scheme, by the way -- that although it's easier to actually accomplish than last year's design, it requires more periods of drying and pressing between steps, which means I ironically have to start working on a particular copy much farther in advance now to have it done at the same time as last year's design.)

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

And then finally for the cover, a unique little detail that I hope will make this year's batch of books just as memorable as last year's Coptic stitching -- basically, where the illustration is missing along the fabric, I'm hand-drawing in a skeleton version of what was there in gold pen. This is supposed to mimic the look of the actual gold foil used on the spines of traditional books, and in fact the plan at first was to do actual gold foil to accomplish it; but then I quickly learned just how expensive, messy and time-consuming actual gold foil is, which is when the idea of the pen substitution came. The jury's still out on this, I think; I can't tell yet how many people are going to immediately understand what these abstract lines are when they glance at the book, and how many will need to stare at it for a moment before their cognitive skills kick in.

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

Next: the manuscript! This is done exactly as last year's books were, frankly, using the same template in Adobe InDesign and everything; it's basically four pages laid out on an 8.5 x 11 piece of laserprinter paper, so that if you print it front and back, cut it in half and then fold each half in half, you get eight book pages per sheet of paper. 32 pages, then (or four half-sheets of paper), make up a CCLaP Hypermodern signature; Get Up Tim in particular has four signatures, but other books in the past have gone six or even seven. Just like last year's books, the next step is to poke holes in each signature and then sew them all together with thread; but since the stitching in this design scheme is eventually hidden by the fabric spine, it's a much simpler pattern than those fancy-schmancy Coptic loops from last year's open-spine books, and only needing a much cheaper unwaxed thread as well. Thank God!!!

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

Next, an element this year that I didn't have to deal with last year; namely, a strong mesh to help hold the spine together, as well as to strengthen the connection between the manuscript and the covers, as well as the checkered "endthreads" you see on traditional hardback books, which not only help hold the ends of the spines together but also provides a pretty way to block the view of the ugly sausage-making on the inside of the spine. As you can see, this endthread just comes on a big spool, and you cut it down to specific size; what you can't see is that this step starts with a big gooey layer of glue to the actual sewn manuscript itself, then the mesh and yet another layer of glue, in order to help the spine stay together in a more traditional way I didn't have to deal with in last year's design scheme. This adds yet another one of those 24-hour drying periods I mentioned earlier.

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

And then finally, the endpapers, a bookbinder's main chance to add a personal artistic flourish to a project; as you can imagine, the options for this choice are endless, everything from glorified wrapping paper to thick artisan stuff that still has bits of wood embedded in it. For this title, I went for the second time with the great Debra Glanz of Reminiscence Papers, who has been great at letting me make custom orders and at custom sizes, and who has just this incredible selection of engaging silkscreen designs, really just some of the most eye-popping endpapers being made in America right now. I cut it down to size, fold it in half, and then glue each side first to the manuscript itself, basically cementing it to the first and last sheets of actual paper in the bundle; then after yet another drying period, glue the other side to the inside covers, a process that requires a lot of patience, an eye for detail, and the ease for doing it all in a rather quick period. Since my spine is so narrow, that's essentially it for me; but if you were making a more traditionally sized book, there would be a number of middle steps in this process as well, regarding shoring up that fabric spine with cardboard, training it to bend outward when the manuscript bends inward, shaping it into a curve, etc.

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

The Making of Sally Weigel's 'Get Up Tim'

And voila -- finished book! And as I've said before, this is what allows CCLaP to pump out so many books a year for basically a zine-level budget, is because I get to buy all this stuff in bulk and then just make each copy as it's needed, sharing a huge communal pool of raw material from one book to the next; this makes each copy cost less to make than the per-cost average of a trade paperback run, but still allows us to charge a hardback price, which when combined with direct sales from the website Etsy-style creates a much larger profit margin than the typical small-press trade paperback sold at Amazon, which when combined with a free ebook version lets CCLaP entirely skip the trade-paperback/bookstore level of publishing altogether, but still make as much money as most of our peers here in the local literary community. It's an odd way of going about things, I confess, but I have to say that I'm tickled pink by CCLaP having a reputation for being so dedicated to both extremes of publishing -- smart, innovative use of digital texts, combined with a slavish devotion to old-fashioned hand-binding -- while skipping the step that not only I find the most boring, but is where the majority of small presses are bleeding the most money these days. Anyway, if you agree, I encourage you to stop by and buy one or more of our paper books; as I've said many times, it's that 10 percent of our audience that literally provides 90 percent of our revenue (the vast majority of readers instead download the free EPUB and Kindle versions), so your patronage really does make a big dent not only on the center's overall budget but that author's personal royalties.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:10 PM, February 23, 2012. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Design | Literature |